LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky coach John Calipari's message to DeAndre Liggins was simple after watching the junior defensive stopper struggle at times during the opening weeks of the season.
Calipari told Liggins if he didn't get out on the floor and do all the little things he did so well last season - grabbing loose balls and sticking his hands in passing lanes - he might as well fill out a job application because he wasn't going to see much time on the floor.
Energized by a handful of hustle plays that have become his trademark, Liggins scored a career-high 19 points to lead the 17th-ranked Wildcats to a physical 81-62 win over Indiana on Saturday.
``I just felt diving on floors, defending, bringing that spark to my team, that's what I do,' Liggins said. ``That's what he stressed to me.'
Liggins kickstarted Kentucky's game-ending 25-5 run with a 3-pointer, but it was his play at the other end of the floor that got the Wildcats (7-2) going.
He tied up Indiana's Christian Watford on one drive to the basket and vaulted over traffic in the lane to snare a couple of crucial rebounds as Kentucky pulled away to win for the 14th time in the last 17 meetings.
``He rebounded the ball,' Calipari said. ``You understand the last game (against Notre Dame) he had one rebound and then ... had a ball in the corner where he fell on the floor and couldn't bring it in? Last year we know he got every one of those balls.'
Liggins wasn't doing that in the first half against the Hoosiers and found himself on the bench when the Wildcats came back out on the floor holding a tenuous one-point lead. A quick foul to Terrence Jones, however, forced Calipari to put Liggins in the game a little earlier than the coach wanted.
Calipari's move paid off with Liggins' best performance of the season. He finished with a career-high nine rebounds, added two steals and didn't turn it over in 37 minutes.
``His intensity helps us out,' said Kentucky guard Brandon Knight, who added 18 points. ``He kind of leads us in that aspect and that's what pushes us to be better defensively.'
The Wildcats needed that aggressiveness after allowing the Hoosiers (7-2) to hang around for the first 30 minutes. Indiana frustrated Kentucky with physical play in a rugged game that featured 47 fouls, a number of which sent bodies tumbling to the ground.
``They were like 'let's just come out and be the more aggressive team and the tougher team and maybe they'll back down and they'll fold,'' said Kentucky center Josh Harrellson, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. ``But (we) did a better job in the second half of just being tougher and playing harder.'
Watford led Indiana with 19 points and nine rebounds but the Hoosiers ran out of gas in the final 10 minutes after a Watford 3-pointer gave them a 57-56 lead.
Indiana missed 10 straight shots over a 9-minute stretch. By the time Jeremiah Rivers ended the drought on a layup with 38 seconds remaining Indiana was trailing by 17.
``They made a few runs late in the second half that we were not able to sustain or challenge,' Rivers said.
Kentucky shot just 36 percent from the floor by remained perfect at home during Calipari's tenure by getting to the free throw line and dominating the lane. The Wildcats outrebounded Indiana 45-33, outscored the Hoosiers at the free throw line by 19 points and had 12 second-chance points.
``If you're going to win you've got to be able to make shots and for most of the game we did and then at the end we didn't and they did,' said Indiana coach Tom Crean. ``I certainly would have liked to have seen us get to the foul line a little more at the end .. but that's part of the game.'
It hasn't been the easiest two years for Harrellson and Liggins, holdovers from the Billy Gillispie era who have struggled at times to fit in with Calipari's roster filled with McDonald's All-Americans.
Yet they have survived and are starting to thrive. Both made the ``winning plays' their coach covets against the Hoosiers. While Liggins picked it up defensively, Harrellson was pulling down rebounds and getting to the free-throw line for the first time all season.
``Josh can be whatever he wants to be,' Calipari said. ``He can paint his own canvas. He can do whatever he wants. He's in better shape. We play an offense that's perfect for him.'
Harrellson's play kept the Wildcats in it in the first half, but Liggins and Knight made sure Indiana didn't win at Rupp Arena for the first time since 1989.
Liggins put Kentucky back in front with a 3-pointer two possessions later then, after two free throws by Knight, converted a difficult lay-up in traffic while drawing the foul. He hit the extra shot to put Kentucky up 64-57 and the Wildcats slowly began pulling away as the Hoosiers unraveled.
Jones hit two free throws, Harrellson put back a miss and by the time Knight drilled a 3-pointer from the corner the Wildcats led 71-60 with 2:52 remaining.
Kentucky's win was its third straight in the series. Each victory has come by at least 17 points. Calipari joked on Friday that Kentucky should consider canceling the series considering the way Crean is breathing life back into the Hoosiers following the NCAA-sanction riddled tenure of predecessor Kelvin Sampson.
The Hoosiers are certainly on the right track, but can't quite match Kentucky's talent level, at least not yet. Still, Crean remained upbeat.
``We did things today that certainly we haven't done in our time here,' he said. ``They're things we've got to do more as we continue to get better.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved